Martha’s back in business

Domestic diva stops by UBS Media Conference

The sea of dark suits at the UBS Media Conference got a dash of star power as Martha Stewart in a spangled sweater made a surprise entrance at the tail end of a presentation by execs of the company she founded, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

”I just want to say ‘hi.’ It’s my first time here in the business sector of our company and I am very happy to be here Thank you everybody,” Stewart said Wednesday. Investors crowded around to congratulate the queen of homemaking whose return to the spotlight marks the end of a five-year ban by the Securities and Exchange Commission from serving as an executive at a public company.

In a first step, Stewart rejoined the MSO board of directors in September. Asked if she planned to assume the title of chairman or CEO Stewart hesitated. ”TBA,” she said — to be announced.

Stewart’s legal troubles started in 2003 when she was indicted by the government for securities fraud and obstruction of justice relating to her sale of shares in biotech company ImClone.

During a month-long media circus of a jury trial, the Department of Justice claimed that Stewart avoided a loss — of $45,673 — by selling her ImClone shares in late 2001 based on material, nonpublic information from her broker and that she tried to hide the transaction. She was found guilty in March, 2004 of obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators and went to jail for five months.

Stewart’s re-emergence Wednesday coincided with a key announcement that retailer J.C. Penney was acquiring a 16.6% stake in Martha Stewart Omnimedia for $38.5 million, or $3.50 a share. The chain is looking for new name brands to buck up sales.

MSO shares skyrocketed, up 33.65% at $4.17 in midday trading.

The company made its name as a magazine venture with Time Inc. for the flagship Martha Stewart Living. Stewart expanded rapidly into TV and retail, buying out Time Warner in 1997 and taking Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia public two years later.